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Published: Friday, 7/8/2011

Piven compares his 8-year ride on 'Entourage' to being at a feast

BY CINDY PEARLMAN
NEW YORK TIMES SPECIAL FEATURES
Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), left, and his ex-assistant Lloyd (Rex Lee) are agents on HBO's 'Entourage.' Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), left, and his ex-assistant Lloyd (Rex Lee) are agents on HBO's 'Entourage.'
CLAUDETTE BARIUS Enlarge

They said it couldn't happen, but it has. Ari Gold has staged his last public tantrum, made his last screaming telephone call. The agent's agent has put down his Bluetooth.

It's the last day of filming for the final season of the long-running HBO hit Entourage, and Jeremy Piven, who has played Ari since the beginning, promises a side of the hypercompetitive agent that we haven't seen.

"You'll find a new word for soft," the 45-year-old actor says. "I finally got to show Ari Gold's soul."

Wait, does Ari Gold … cry?

Piven won't cop to anything of the kind but notes that he himself had no need of a hankie.

"I kept my mind on business until the end," Piven says during a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "My deal was just to focus on the work and not the real-life emotions."

What was going on inside him during his last moments as Ari?

"There was a real sense of the passing of time," Piven says. "So many things happen to you during an eight-year run on a series. Parents die, babies are born. Eight years is a long time. It's just nice to know that I can walk away feeling like I did everything I could at the end."

The final season of Entourage begins July 24, and when television historians look back on the series, they'll note that it made a star out of an actor who had been widely respected within the industry but little known to the general public, a guy named Jeremy Piven.

"The complete irony is that people think I am Ari," he says. "No one knows who I am. Listen, I'm just a stage actor from Chicago. I'm an emotional guy. I'm not this character -- I'm even shy. I don't run around screaming at people.

"But to play a guy who is the exact opposite of me was a feast."

"For eight years, it was amazing to play this rage-aholic whose methods were unsound. Let's face it, the guy is a shark. But the twist was he does it all for his family."

Last season ended with Ari's long-suffering wife (Perrey Reeves) finally saying "enough is enough" and walking out on him.

"He is brought to his knees by the possible loss of his family," Piven says. "As an actor, you can only dream about playing emotional stuff like this in a final season.

"How often do you even get to play a character who can take all the oxygen in a room for himself?," he continues. "Ari is an equal-opportunity offender. He's a maniac. But, this last season, we finally open him up and show his layers. That's something I've been wishing for. I've been dreaming of going out as I swing for the fences with this guy."

Those dreams were fulfilled in the final season, he adds.

"He finally has to deal with his own ego," Piven says. "It feels fresh and vital and new. What a way to go out."

The new episodes pick up right where last season left off: Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) has gone to rehab and may be breaking up with his porn-star girlfriend, played by real-life porn star Sasha Grey.

"It logically picks up right where we left off," Piven says, "which makes me really happy. Without sounding too hokey, this is a season of change. Some of these guys are men-children. The theme of this season is that, at a certain point, everybody grows up."

The show's fans aren't letting go easily. Thousands have filed online pleas for more Entourage, but Piven thinks that it's time to stop.

"I have to say that this feels right to me," he says. "Listen, no matter how great a show is, it has to end. I think Sex and the City (1998-2004) went about seven seasons. We did eight, which is an amazing run."

Sex and the City has, of course, enjoyed a second life as a movie franchise, and Piven would love to see the same for Entourage.

"It feels like the kind of show that would benefit from opening it up," he says. "This show begs to be expansive. The idea of having an Entourage movie that takes place across the globe and is seen around the globe just feels great to me."

Any such movie would doubtless feature Ari prominently, a fact which still bemuses Piven.

"In the pilot episode of Entourage," he recalls, "Ari Gold has one scene. He was just this fringe guy. The agent. Some guy named Ari."

Executive producer Mark Wahlberg, on whose Hollywood career the series is loosely based, remembers it differently. From the beginning, he says, he saw Ari as a key role.

"He wasn't sure if he wanted to do the role," Wahlberg recalls in a separate interview. "I called him up and said, 'Jeremy, there is no choice. This role will really make you.' And I guess I was completely right."

Hearing Wahlberg's remarks, Piven laughs.

"I do remember Mark telling me that this was going to be the ride of a lifetime," he concedes, "and he was absolutely right."



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